Tuesday at small group we discussed the power of God. It was the middle installment of three discussions on how Jesus went about establishing the Kingdom of God. We’re looking at truth, power and freedom. While those are three individual topics–and huge topics at that–one can hardly talk on one without the others.
A progression of those three facets has emerged: that Christ’s spoken word (truth) manifests in power that sets people free–physically, emotionally, spiritually…whatever way God sees fit. Truth is kinda pointless if there is no power behind it. Tell someone 2×2=4. Exciting, hunh? That’s…some amazing, life-changing truth. Tell a person you’ve doubled their money through a great investment…and now you have their attention. That truth had some power attached to it.
When Jesus talked about setting people free like he did in Luke 4 when he proclaimed why he’d come…that talk would have been cheap if there wasn’t an accompanying power that backed it up. He didn’t simply talk about setting people free; he actually did it though the power of the Holy Spirit–the same spirit he sent to empower us to carry out His work as His body.
I’ve often credited Jesus’ ability to perform miracles to his deity. "Well…he was God’s son…and he actually is God in a sense." But he gave that all up when he visited earth for thirty-some years. He gave up his innate ability to create the universe; he became fully human. He had to rely on the father ("I speak only what the father tells me" John 8:28) and the Holy Spirit (didn’t start ministry before being filled with the Holy Spirit — Luke 4:1).
The same goes for us. We have to rely on the Father and the Holy Spirit; Christ provides the bridge to those resources.
I just rabbit-trailed a bit; back to power.
Power is uncomfortably absent from the American church. We in no way resemble the Acts church, which were supposed to be building upon, not using as a reference of the "good ol’ days" when people were really passionate about God. And anyone who claims that the modern American church actually is a step ahead of the Acts church in the area of kingdom-establishing effectiveness is…well…I won’t call them names.
Yet the ironic thing about my lead sentence in the above paragraph is that it is real, spiritual power that the American church is uncomfortable with. So, it would probably make more sense to say that "Power is comfortably absent from the American church." We like it this way. We say a service is powerful if we get goose-bumps from a well-executed and sonically-impressive worship song. Or if a message is delivered eloquently. Or if a video clip stirs our heart. These are experiences that are comfortable to our flesh because culture and the media feed the same dogs Monday through Saturday. We may as well be at a U2 concert.
Seriously…what is the difference between going to a mega church and going to the movies…or a mall? Same stimulus for the most part…with a message simply seasoned with God-stuff. Heck, many churches are in malls and movie theaters now days. There is nothing specifically wrong with being in a converted mall or theater…it just accents the point that the post-modern church thinks the key to kingdom establishing is cultural relevance. And I’m saying its the supernatural power of God.
If the key to kingdom building was relevance, why did Jesus tell the disciples to WAIT for the Holy Spirit just after telling them to GO make disciples. Does the Holy Spirit empower us to be supernaturally hip? Com’on; God’s a bit bigger than that. We can do just fine being hip living by the flesh. The flesh is all about worldly stuff; it’s part of the world’s system.
No–the Holy Spirit empowers us to do things far beyond our conjuring. Figure out a "program" you can construct to heal someone of cancer. Can’t do it. Write some curriculum that will set a person free of depression. That sounds a bit more feasible…but again, counseling has limited effectiveness without the Counselor. It isn’t the program that is setting the person free; it’s God. THAT’S true relevance.
And I believe it’s exactly that type of true relevance and power that people are leaving the church to find. There is a great spiritual hunger in our country and spiritual experiences are decidedly absent from the church’s menu. That’s one of the points I was going to reflect on in my Barna research post last month. Spiritual interest isn’t declining; religious interest is. So people are checking out Wicca and other, more spiritual things than Christianity.
If they only knew how spiritual it is have an authentic, personal relationship with God…to be filled with an active, all-powerful Holy Spirit…to experience the love and forgiveness of a man who was born of a virgin birth and died and rose again. And that’s just the start! What about talking donkeys, fire that doesn’t consume, parting bodies of water, voices from heaven, writing on walls, angelic visitations, floating ax heads, rebuking demons, raising the dead, healing the sick, knowing the future, walking on water…these are the things of God! Many of them have been stolen by the enemy, but that doesn’t make them any less God’s. Many just need to be redeemed…by the church.